Parashas Shoftim

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, the Torah commands us to establish a system of judges and enforcement officers. Accordingly, the Maggid’s commentary on the parashah includes some teachings about civil law. The first of these builds on a Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 30:1, expounding on Tehillim 99:4: “You established uprightness for Your beloved ones – through the laws that You gave them, they enter into disputes with one another, and go to have them adjudicated, and [thereby] they make peace.” In his commentary on parashas Mishpatim, the Maggid presents several interpretations of this Midrash, which we summarized in a previous d’var Torah. Here we present an additional interpretation, taken, as indicated above, from the Maggid’s commentary on parashas Shoftim.
In Tehillim 99:4, the term used for uprightness is משרים, a plural noun. The Maggid says that a plural noun is used because Hashem employed two mechanisms to convey to us an understanding of proper civil law. First, He implanted within us an innate sense of right and wrong. Second, He presented in the Torah a detailed code of civil law. Both mechanisms are necessary. The innate sense of right and wrong allows us to assess the propriety of actions that we see others do and learn from what we see. But it is not enough to allow us to assess with full accurately the propriety of actions that we ourselves have done, because a person has a natural bias in his own favor – the Gemara in Kesuvos 105b teaches that a person does not recognize fault in himself. A person can easily judge an improper act on his part toward someone else to be proper, and this tendency can lead to disputes between people. Hashem therefore conveyed in the Torah a detailed code of civil law, so that people can have their disputes adjudicated and afterward make peace with each other.
We may ask why Hashem implanted in each person a natural bias in his own favor, so that people have a distorted view of their own actions. Why didn’t Hashem arrange for our natural sense of right and wrong to be free of any distortion? The answer is that if He had done so, we would not deserve any reward for acting uprightly. It would be simply instinct, like the instinct Hashem planted within the chasidah (commonly translated as stork) to act with “kindness” (chesed) toward other chasidos by sharing food with them (Chullin 63a). Hashem implanted within us a natural bias in our own favor so that we can work to overcome this bias and thereby gain reward.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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